I AM | A BIT IMPRESSED

The internet is an amazing place, a place where news spreads faster than ever, news is posted as it happens, right there and then. Not only that, but the expectation of news is increasingly fueled by rumours spread through the Internet. Last night was one of those many events where rumours meet news, news is made and reported. For a brief moment the world is confronted by actual first had facts. The facts filter back into the Internet and are interpreted, digested and opinions are formed. This post is just one opinion of many that will be circulating today and in the next days or weeks.

I was called some weeks ago by the Nikon PR agency to invite me to Nikon Belgium’s HQ on the evening of the 6th January 2012. An announcement would be made. At that time I was sitting with 2 colleagues discussing camera gear, just as most media following photographers of today do. In turn we all had that call and invitation, we looked at each other and immediately the speculation started. What would it be! The follow-up to the D700, or the D3s? new lenses, new this, new that. We were spontaneously generating our own ideas based on our own needs and wishes for Nikon’s future. After a glass of beer’s worth of discussion we quickly dropped back into the reality and agreed, we’ll wait and see what they have to say.

The 6th January 2012 came. My first email of the day was from Nikon Belux to announce what I pretty much knew already. Nikon D4 camera,A new AF-S 85mm 1.8 lens and a new Wifi transmitter for the D4. Great! The lens I’ve been waiting for! Right on, a new full bodied pro level camera with some impressive specs and oh. Another wifi transmitter. Like many of my peers, I had an Internet trawl to find out more details on each of the 3 products, trying not to form much of an opinion until the evening where we’d be at the Mother-ship and be told the facts about the facts.
6pm came.
I think the Friday evening traffic around the Brussels ring knew that we were on a mission and suitably left us a clean path all the way from Ghent to Brussels. We had already been sitting at Nikon HQ since 5… I’d travelled with a colleague and author Piet Van Den Eynde and we were embarrassingly early for the event. Not a problem though, Maarten Goossens, NPS Service manager and our host for the evening was just as happy and welcoming to see us. A steady flow of people arrived, some familiar faces and some new ones. All with their own expectations, wishes, hopes and opinions.

 

I AM | WAFFLING

All seated, Maarten began the presentation in the usual fashion. Slides showing specs, details and illustration of how things have changed with the introduction of the new new flagship Nikon camera. Maarten is passionate about ‘his’ products and his passion comes from the fact that he’s a photographer. He’s there to sell, sure, but I could see the  genuine excitement in his expression that only a user would have. No rehearsed pitch there, no need, at that moment he’s talking to his peers, not simply rattling off a sales pitch.

I AM | COMFY

Anyway..  Ergonomic tweaks to what I already find a comfortable camera, the angle of the shutter button in relation to the body has been changed, there’s an extra rubber thumb grip on the vertical grip section of the body, the grip is a little rounder, the camera is a little lighter, the buttons around the rear LCD are slightly illuminated, etc, etc. Big deal, some might say. tweaks are a natural evolution, do they make it any better? The old adage ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ comes to mind there. The D3 and The D3s were not broken at all, I really had no complaints about the ergonomics there However, seeing these small details change, and change in a gentle way is a sign that Nikon do listen to their people. The shutter button angle was changed because customer feedback from the world’s pool of users has popped up something at the Nikon R&D dept to say, hang on. This is being asked for. Illuminated buttons. How many times I’ve had to use the light of my phone to see where the buttons were! You can argue that a real pro can use the buttons like a real typist can type blind. I can’t type blind and I can’t always find the button on the first press. The extra thumb grip on the vertical grip section of the body.  Another answer to a question from X number of photographers throughout the world and it works. Holding the camera vertically suddenly got easier. I just hope Nikon have changed the glue they use to hold the rubber onto the body. My D3 needed to be completely ‘re-rubbered’ last year due to bits falling off. We’ll see if that has been addressed about 6 month down the line.

I AM | FOCUSED

The D4 uses an all new focus module that seems to be a natural step up in the D3s’ already good performance. Faster, bigger, better. More user feedback interpreted and incorporated. Changing AF modes got easier, now you can see clearly in the viewfinder what AF field you are in. Making switching fields a lot simpler and no need to take the camera away from your eye to do it. Faster AF, I saw this already in the little Nikon V1. Technology that filtered down to the consumer camera before the pro camera was even launched. Improved low light focusing. Already pretty good in the D3s, it’s been further improved and noticeably so.
Face tracking. On a pro camera? Hang on, the explanation Maarten gave about the implementation and use of face tracking in the D4 went beyond my impression of it being a Point and shoot gimmick. The AF and exposure system uses the face tracking technology to go way beyond that. This is where the sports photographer will love it. It’ll nail the faces in sports and keep nailing them for the full high speed burst. Not only that, coupled with the new 91k pixel exposure metering system, it’ll make sure the exposure and white balance are bang on too. Of course, I couldn’t test that to the extreme last night but I was convinced that it was a big step up. The face tracking tech will also encourage me to use Aperture priority a bit more for situations such as weddings. A situation where I have worked exclusively in full manual out of habit and experience. Relying on Aperture priority to correctly exposure a bride’s face and dress when walking into a back-lit church just seemed easier in manual than having to let the camera guess what I wanted and then have to use the EV compensation to effectively make a semi auto mode back into a manual mode. I’m looking forward to testing this new system in the real world where this could help out a lot.

I AM | MOVING

One of the sure-fire additions I had on my list of things that would get into the D4 was improved video capability. I’ve got a D7000 which I’d dabbling with for video work. It’s the way things are going, it’s the exciting market all the DSLR producers are tapping into it. As a relative newbie to the video world I was very impressed by a few features in the D4. Of course, the standard full HD output that we all expect but now saved as horrible to edit plain .mov format but now a from what I’ve been led to understand as the standard. H.264/MPEG-4 format. Maarten demonstrated live video output via HDMI too, the video boys in the room loved this. Stream live feed out of the camera and directly to an external recording / production / broadcast? As well as watching live on the camera’s LCD screen? Even to me, that got my mind thinking of the possible options this opens up. Stepless electronic Aperture adjustment during video recording, shooting stills while video recording, on screen volume feedback, various other features that can be read in all the official spec sheets.  What I did like was the ability to choose the output video range. How so? Well, the full sensor can be used or a DX crop area can be recorded, or a native 1920×1080 can be cropped out of the sensor, effectively giving the user options of how to represent the focal length of their lenses. I just know what I heard as reactions from the Canon users present and the video guys. Hello Nikon!

I AM | NOCTURNAL

The ISO and megapixel race has been with is since the dawn of digital. Finding a happy medium between output size and output quality. The D4 goes up to the 204800 ISO. in colloquial terms. ‘like, WTF?’ My D2x bottomed out at a usable ISO of 400. These new machines are just opening up doors like a SWAT team on the hurry. Low light work is a breeze now and makes me wonder how we all managed just a few years ago. Hands on,  shot off a few shots at the meeting at 12800 with the new 1.8 85mm lens. Bang on sharp, and with about the same noise I’d expect from a 5000ISO shot on a D3s. A native 100 ISO is very welcome too and all coupled to 16mp images. yes, this was impressive to me as a photographer who shoots in a lot of different situations. Sports shooters, wedding shooters, reportage shooters all going to love this.
On the subject of ISO. Auto ISO has always confused me and I’ve kept away from it. I’ve not appreciated the automatic settings over-riding my idea of how a scene should look. This new setup is clever. You can specify the amount of Auto ISO adjustment per lens… For example. You use a 17-35, you can shoot that comfortably at very shutter speed so the ISO range can be pretty low to ensure that you maintain a comfortable minimum shutter speed. At 600mm though, you’re looking at using a minimum of 600th/s to get a steady shot (ok, VR will help of course) For this lens, the camera can be programmed to use a min and max ISO of a higher range to ensure that the min shutter speed is met. All clever stuff.

I AM | CONNECTED

I saw the WT-5 transmitter announced and thought it’ll be another expensive lump of plastic that’ll suck the camera dry. Boy, was I wrong. A tiny box that screws onto a dedicated socket on the body. No additional wires to get in the way. Faster throughput, better and more reliable connection via HTTP or FTP protocols. Transmission and reception that can send images directly to a portable device to be evaluated and transmitted via mail or uploaded online. News journalists will love this. Personally, I’m loving the idea of finally having a viable and reliable solution for event work. Live projection of images, live printing. Lots of options there. Not only that but the camera can be controlled via the Wifi connection, more than one camera can be triggered at once, remotely. And the  best bits, the WT-5 uses less power and is actually cheaper than the WT-4.  Even without the optional extra of the WT-5, the D4 has a built in Ethernet port. For me personally, not a biggie but again for the video and big organisations relying heavily on data transfer, this will be very welcome.

I AM | A BIT IN AWE

ok, nitty gritty. I’ve written too much about the camera that can already be read elsewhere but I’ve picked out only a few features and examples from my standpoint as commercial photographer. These are the bits that stood out to me and hit home as things to call up as changes that warrant an upgrade from a D3s. For many it’ll be over-kill. An out and out sports camera, high speed frame rate, loads of power, brutal in every respect. I see it from a my point of view. I see the lower 100ISO starting point as a bonus for studio work, I see the higher ISO ranges also as a bonus for studio work where I’m increasingly using constant light or daylight. I love that feel of non-sterile images made at higher ISO, the richness of skins tones. 16mp is a good size, not D3x size or medium format size but as far as I’m concerned, a happy medium and tradeoff. Outside the studio on my reportage and wedding work. I might just get Aperture priority to help me out now. Just to make my life a little easier, my thinking can be used on making the image rather than taking it. Weight is down, a small help, carrying these machines is a chore at times, ergonomic tweaks look and feel nice to me. Increased efficiency, better battery life, etc, etc. Handling is not far removed from my trusty D3 and I felt at home holding the D4.
I’d convinced myself that my next body would be a smaller one, D700ish. Lighter, more portable, etc, etc. At this moment there is no followup to the D700 so the speculation and rumour mill will be working hard again in the next weeks. I’m not bothered. I’m all but convinced that the D4 covers my needs and then some. I’m in no rush though. I can wait a while to see what the next Nikon HQ get-together announces.

 

…Problem is, can I wait that long ?…

I AM | YOUR WISH

85mm 1.8 AF-S
YOU ARE MINE!

Oops, bit enthusiastic there.. Long story short. Wanted an 85mm for some time. Nikon 85mm 1.4 is expensive. No polite way to say that. Other options were. Sigma 85mm 1.4, Nikon 85mm 1.8 AF-D. Then along came the AF-S version and my quick test shots last night in poor light, wide open and at high ISO.

I AM | ORDERING ONE AND BADGERING NIKON ‘TILL I GET IT

 

There you go, some personal opinions on the latest Nikon products.

Huge thanks to Nikon for the invite and hospitality.

The Tiny WT-5 transmitter. I had no idea it was actually that small. Nother beats a hands-on presentation. Some things just can’t be felt via press releases.

The front view of the D4, not that far removed from an already successful design.

 

 

  • Piet Van den Eynde - I AM | IMPRESSED BY YOUR WRITING SKILLS
    Opening doors faster than a SWAT team.
    Great review, loved reading it even though I was there myself.
    Agree on the 85 1.8. Looks like a brilliant lens (in more than one way) from the couple of test shots I did with it.

  • Jef Janssens - Same here, wish I had that writing skills.
    But damn you, now I want to switch back to Nikon. Luckily I can’t afford it 😉

  • greg thurtle - great article SWAT man… I AM | IMPRESSED

  • koen Hillewaert - good review!

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  • Daf - Although there’s lots out there about the D4 – I’d like to hear more about the 85mm 1.8
    I too have fancied a modern 85 prime – but at £1200 it is rather a lot. But I also believe in going for the best product since all too often it’s easy to regret not going for the top item.
    Maybe I should wait for the 1.4 vs 1.8 side by side.

    I’ve often shot at 1.6 on my 50mm (I find DOF too shallow on 1.4) in low light, but that’s on a D200 which has horrendous noise above ISO200.

  • Rob Mitchell - The 85mm 1.8 AF-S was something I’ve been waiting for too. I’ve been tempted by the 1.4 but it’s price is high. I looked at the AF-D but I don’t like that mechanical focus noise. Maybe a little fussy? I had a look at the Sigma 1.4 too and heard some first hand reports of it being a mixed bag. Some are good, some are not.
    We really didn’t get much hands-on at the event and the 85mm was very much a ‘oh, and we’re launching this too’ I did wind it open and fired off a few shots and it was indeed very good at centre sharpness, even at 1.8. One guy there commented it looks better than his 1.4 AF-S too.
    Looking back and wondering. The new flasgship camera was there with the new 85mm on it. If there was any doubt that it wasn’t going to be up to scratch I’m sure they wouldn’t have put it on the D4 for people to handle. I have ordered one and it’s expected at the end of March. I will certainly being doing a direct comparison between that lens and it’s bigger-eye’d 1.4 brother. Mostly out of personal curiousity. of course, if I can get a test lens from Nikon sooner, I’ll do it sooner.

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